Tisha be’Av is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, when we mourn the destruction of two Temples, and the exile from our land.
As such, it is also most strict of all fast days except for Yom Kippur, which is a day of atonement and not of mourning. Like Yom Kippur, it lasts a full twenty-four hours, by contrast with other fasts that apply only from dawn to nightfall.
Also like Yom Kippur, Tisha Be’Av includes restrictions other than eating and drinking. On Yom Kippur these are known as the five innuyim (afflictions), and include (in addition to eating and drinking) prohibitions against washing, wearing shoes, and marital relations.
In the present article we will discuss the prohibition against wearing shoes. Some people have the misconception that is forbidden to wear any leather on Tisha Be’Av. This is incorrect. The restriction refers exclusively to shoes, not to leather.
The fact that there is no inherent restriction against leather, but rather against leather shoes, raises the question of whether shoes that are no less comfortable than leather, yet made of plastic of other materials, are permitted on Tisha Be’Av. Is the leather itself the problem, or did the sages prohibit the wearing of comfortable, leather-like shoes, even if made of plastic?
Moreover, are there cases in which it is permitted to wear leather shoes on Tisha Be’Av? Is it permitted to wear such shoes to work, for somebody who needs to come into the office? And is anyone exempt from the prohibition against wearing leather shoes?
These questions, among others, are discussed below.
Exemptions from the Prohibition
The prohibitions on Tishah Be’Av, parallel to those on Yom Kippur (see Vayikra 16:29, 31; 23:27, 29; Bamidbar 29:7), and are enumerated in the Mishnah (Yoma 73b; Taanit 30a), and ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 554, 612-615). One of them is ne’ilas ha’sandal—the prohibition against wearing shoes (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 554:16; 614:2).
The Gemara (Yoma 77a) learns that walking barefoot is considered an innuy from a statement made by the Pasuk (II Shmuel 15:30) about King David. In his grief over Avshalom’s rebellion, the Pasuk writes that King David walked yachef, meaning he went barefoot (see Yirmiyahu 2:25).
Concerning Yom Kippur, there is a dispute among authorities whether the extra innuyim, including wearing shoes, are Torah-based (the Ran) or rabbinic (the Rosh) prohibitions. But even if they are Torah prohibitions, they are more lenient than eating and drinking, because they are not explicit in the Pasuk, and were left to the Sages to define. Therefore, Chazal made a number of exemptions to the prohibition of wearing shoes.
Since the obligation to refrain from wearing shoes is a prohibition against luxury, much like the prohibition against washing oneself, Chazal say that where shoes are worn for a purpose other than luxury the prohibition does not apply. This is parallel to the case of washing to get rid of dirt on one’s body: since it is not done for pleasure, it is permitted.
The Mishnah (Yoma 8:1, according to Rabbi Eliezer) teaches that a postpartum woman is exempt from the prohibition. The Gemara (Yoma 78b) explains that she must wear shoes to protect her from the cold. Authorities explain that this exemption applies to all sick people, provided there is a health-related reason for wearing leather shoes (even if his life is not endangered). This is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 614:3).
Note that these rulings apply even to Yom Kippur, and of course they apply even to the parallel prohibition on Tisha Be’Av, which is certainly only rabbinic in nature. However, if there are non-leather alternatives that perform the same function—as is generally the case today—it is not permitted to wear the leather shoes.
Do children need to refrain from wearing shoes on Tisha Be’Av?
Concerning Yom Kippur, we find that children are prohibited from wearing shoes, because it does not involve significant pain (Orach Chaim 617:1). However, concerning Tisha Be’Av the Chochmas Adam (152:17) writes that there is no need to prevent children from wearing shoes. The stringency concerning children applies only to Yom Kippur, and not to the mourning of Tisha Be’Av.
The Mishnah Berurah (551:81) cites in this matter the Magen Avraham (551:38), who writes that for public mourning we must educate our children, and the restrictions therefore do apply.
Concerning haircuts in the Nine Days, the Mishnah Berurah (see Sha’ar HaTziyun 551:9) writes that the prohibition against haircuts might apply even to very young children, since this contributes to the atmosphere of distress. It is not clear that this will apply to wearing shoes. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes explicitly that the prohibition applies only from an age when the child understands the concept of mourning over the Churban (Shut Iggros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 1:224).
What Defines Shoes?
We have seen that there is a prohibition on Tisha Be’Av (as on Yom Kippur) against wearing shoes. But what defines a halachic shoe? In fact, there are three different opinions as to how a shoe is classified (as cited by the Ran, Yoma 78b). The opinions are based on the Gemara in Yevamos (101-102) concerning how to define a shoe for purposes of chalitzah, and on the Gemara in Yoma (78a-b) concerning Amoraim who wore non-leather shoes on Yom Kippur.
According to the Ba’al Hama’or, any kind of protective footwear is considered a shoe, irrespective of the material. Thus, the Ba’al Hama’or does not restrict the prohibition to leather shoes, but rather applies it to all shoes that adequately protect a person’s feet. The Ramban defers this opinion.
Rashi, however, limits the definition to footwear made of leather or of wood. The Aruch Hashulchan (614:3) adds that even according to Tosafos, the prohibition applies both to leather shoes and to wooden shoes—but not to other materials such as rubber, cork and cloth.
The third, and most familiar opinion is that of the Rif and the Rosh, who rule that only a shoe made of leather constitutes a halachic shoe, while footwear made of any other material is not considered a shoe.
There is some discussion concerning the Rambam’s opinion on this matter. The Aruch Hashulchan states that it seems the Rambam agrees with Rashi, and is therefore stringent concerning wearing wooden shoes on Yom Kippur.
The Shulchan Aruch (614:2) rules according to the Rif and Rosh that only leather shoes, or shoes made of another material but coated with leather, are prohibited. This means that it is permitted to wear any shoes that are not made of leather, and this ruling is noted by the Magen Avraham and Taz.
However, some authorities lean toward greater stringency. In fact, the Bach (614) testifies that several of his teachers would walk completely barefoot on Yom Kippur, and rules that this is the correct conduct. Clearly, this is not the common custom.
But the Sha’arei Teshuvah (Orach Chaim 554:11, citing Shut Panim Me’iros 2:28) and the Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 554:72) cite the opinion that prohibits any protective footwear, in accordance with the stringent opinion noted above. The Sha’ar HaTziyun (614:5) quotes the Chasam Sofer that when walking in the street on Yom Kippur one should wear thin shoes, so as to feel the discomfort of the earth, and sense that he is barefoot (this is based on the Rambam in the laws of Yom Kippur).
The stringent opinions noted above refer to Yom Kippur, and there is room to suggest that they, too, will not be stringent in this matter concerning the lesser stringency of shoes on Tisha Be’Av. The Mishnah Berurah (614:5), mentions the stringency of the Panim Me’iros (cited by the Shaarei Teshuva) specifically concerning Yom Kippur, and does not mention it concerning Tisha Be’Av—though this does not necessarily mean that the stringency does not apply to Tisha Be’Av.
In fact, the Maharshag (cited in Mekadesh Yisrael 242) is lenient specifically concerning Yom Kippur, because a person should not afflict himself too much on the great and holy day; for the tragic mourning day of Tisha Be’Av, this logic does not apply.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Shoneh Halachos614:3) and Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Moadim U’Zemanim 6:28; see also Vol. 8, addendum to 6:28, where he discusses the opinion of the Gra), also recommend following the strict opinion when possible.
However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Moadim 5:17) disagrees, noting that our custom is to permit all non-leather shoes, even if they are comfortable, explaining that today we are all considered “istinisim” (sensitive).
The discussion is pertinent concerning sneakers on Tisha Be’Av. While there is room for stringency, as noted in the matter of protective and comfortable non-leather shoes, one certainly need not be stringent in this matter for children.
Walking Among Non-Jews
The Rema (554:17) rules that those who walk among non-Jews need not take off their shoes in public. The source of this halachah is the Tur (and other early authorities), and the Beis Yosef explains that this is permitted to avoid shame and denigration at the hands of non-Jews. The Beis Yosef (citing Rabbeinu Yerucham) writes that shame among non-Jews is no reason for leniency, and therefore defers the ruling—but as noted, it is cited by the Rema.
The Mishnah Berurah (554:36), citing the Chayei Adam, notes that non-Jews ridicule Jews in any case, so that the leniency seems strained. Thus while there is room to be lenient—the Rema writes that this is the common custom—one should be certainly try to wear sneakers or other non-leather shoes which are both respectable and do not incur the prohibition of leather shoes. In Israel, where it is acceptable to wear sandals and other footwear, the leniency will generally not apply.
Walking in the Rain
Concerning walking in the rain, the Aruch Hashulchan (554:17) writes that it is clear that one may wear regular shoes to protect one’s feet from the rain (on Tisha Be’Av; concerning Yom Kippur he is stringent), since this is for protection from the elements and not for comfort. Today, it is easy to find non-leather boots (and the like) to protect one’s feet, so the leniency will not generally apply.
Reciting She’asa Li Kol Tzarchi
Opinions are divided as to whether one should recite the morning blessing of “she’asah li kol tzarchi,” which is the blessing of thanks to Hashem for giving us shoes (Tur, Orach Chaim 46).
The Gra (Maaseh Rav), together with several Sephardic authorities (see Kaf Hachaim 554:78; 613:10; Kaf Hachaim Filagi 46:17) write that the blessing should not be recited. However, many Ashkenazim have the custom to recite the berachah (see Mishnah Berurah 554:31; Shaar HaTziyun 554:39).
The custom among Ashkenazim who do not recite the berachah is to recite it after Tishah Be’Av, upon putting on leather shoes. Some have the custom of reciting the blessing already at Mincha.
May we speedily merit to welcome Moshiach when Tisha Be’av will turn into a day of joy.